I woke up this morning. Isn’t that grand? I know that it sounds rather ordinary but there is a certain mystery and beauty about the act of sleeping and then rising at the end of our dreams. It demonstrates a total sense of trust because in truth we are very vulnerable when we are snoozing, and yet in my country we mostly have the privilege of following the rhythm of life for all of our days without worry or harm.
Some of us have insomnia from time to time. Mine comes and goes often with the seasons, the stresses in my life or the amount of caffeine that I have consumed during the course of a day. I’ve learned certain tricks to keep the sleepless nights from becoming habitual, but in truth I simply don’t doze as much as I once did. My days grow longer as a result, and I always find ways to enjoy them like watching the hummingbird in my backyard flit from one plant to another. He’s a cute little thing who’s so quick that you have to really concentrate to catch him performing his antics. He’s mostly around when the bigger birds are busy with whatever it is that they do in the middle of the day. When they return to dominate, my hummingbird takes shelter in some hidden corner of the garden.
When an EMT was rushing my husband to the hospital recently he spoke of the sleep disturbances that firefighters continuously endure. He noted that he had been out on four different runs the night before. He explained that the body begins to react to the constant interruptions of slumber. He reasoned that he would one day need a desk job so that he would be able to enjoy more regular habits. He asserted that fighting fires and driving ambulances is a young man’s game that becomes more and more difficult over time.
I’ve often heard that doctors who are continuously awakened by emergency phone calls from patients generally live a bit less longer than the rest of us. They indeed learn early in their training to exist on far less sleep than everyone else, but it has a negative effect on their overall health. We don’t often stop to think about that when we make those middle of the night requests for their services. I understand that much of the time now patients are told to go to an emergency room or a group of doctors work together to create schedules that only require nighttime vigilance now and again to prevent those constant interruptions. I suppose that they have finally quite wisely decided to do something about the dangers of getting too little sleep.
We humans have been wary of the dark since the beginning of time. Things go bump in the night. Surrendering ourselves to a state of oblivion is necessary for our health but can also be frightening. There are indeed times when we sense the danger in doing so.
I once spoke with a young man whose family was trapped by the high waters that resulted from the collapse of the levees in New Orleans and surrounding areas in the wake of hurricane Katrina. He and his parents somehow managed to get to the top of a freeway overpass. He said that other people were there as well. They took turns sleeping because gators were lurking around not to mention other people with devious intent. He recounted how difficult it was to relax enough to finally reach a state of slumber. He said that he was exhausted but unable to surrender for fear of what might happen when he became unconscious. In many ways falling asleep is the ultimate show of confidence because we just don’t know what will occur while we are out.
I am reminded over and over again of the shock that I felt upon learning that a friend’s husband had died in his sleep. When he failed to get up long after his usual time for rising, she went to check on him and realized that he was not breathing. There had been no signs that something was wrong, no warning of the impending tragedy. While it was definitely a very peaceful way of going, it actually haunted me for a quite some time and reminded me of something that my mother had always done.
She had made a habit of telling me and my brothers how much she loved us before she went to sleep each night. If we had exchanged cross words during the day she apologized whether it had been her fault or not. She insisted that loving words should be the last ones we ever heard, and she followed that way of doing things until the end of her own life. I suspect that she sometimes wished that she had been able to tell my father just how she loved him before he died in his terrible car crash. She learned from that horrible time that we can’t take anything for granted, not even that we will see each other when the sun rises at the start of a new day.
Since my husband’s stroke the happiest part of my mornings comes when he opens his eyes and walks downstairs with a big smile and a greeting. My heart literally fluters with gratitude that both of us are still here and my prayer is that we will be for many days to come. Still I’ve made it a habit of late to do as my mom taught me and express the gratitude and affection that I feel for the people who walk with me in this life.
Our rest revitalizes us and prepares us for the work to come. It should also be a time when we close our eyes confident that we love and are loved, that we forgive and are forgiven. We should celebrate the miracle of each new day that we are allowed to see. There is so much beauty in the people and the world around us. All we need do is open our eyes and soak it all in.